Tag Archives: author

Review: ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.

Imagine you are feted author with the world at your feet. You have a startlingly successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home. You go to teach on a week-long residential writing course in Northumberland and meet a talented but troubled young woman. The chemistry between you is instant and you embark on an all-consuming affair like the ones you write about: or do you?

Exquisite is a breathless and claustrophobic read which captivates you until the final page. I literally could not put it down. It’s been a long time since I read a psychological thriller as good as this. I could see the action unfolding in my mind and already have a clear picture of who would play these characters in a TV or film adaptation.

The way in which Sarah Stovell has crafted this book requires a tremendous amount of skill. The narrative completely reflects the obsessive and confusing nature of the relationship between Bo Luxton and Alice Dark. Exquisite is layered  to perfection and ensures that your sympathies never lie with one person for very long. Sadly, it’s terrifyingly believable.

A must-read.

Vic x

Review of 2016: Matt Wesolowski

Over the past twelve months, my path has crossed with Matt Wesolowski’s on a few occasions. Matt is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and he leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. 

Matt’s debut novella ‘The Black Land‘, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and he’s had lots of stories published in anthologies and magazines. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at ‘Bloody Scotland’; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel ‘Six Stories‘ is available through Orenda Books.

Thanks for reviewing your year for us, Matt!

Vic x

Matt

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
It has to be in May when I got the confirmation that my novel ‘Six Stories‘ was to be published by Orenda. Being published on a scale like this has been my dream ever since I can remember and even now, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I remember my legs turning to jelly…they still do if i think about it too much!

Six Stories

My favourite moment generally was seeing my son starting to learn to read. Watching him and helping him recognise words is such a privilege – he’s only five and has got a way to go but I can see the doors to a wonderful world gradually opening before him, a world that has given me such pleasure. I’m reading him Jo Nesbo’s ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder‘ books at the minute. He can try Nesbo’s crime stuff when he’s a bit older!

Favourite book in 2016?
I’m in no way biased toward Orenda but they released a stunning book this year called ‘The Bird Tribunal‘ by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn – the work is simply stunning; it reminded me of Tarjei Vesaas in its rustic poetry. I also was deeply impressed and influenced by Benjamin Myers’ ‘Turning Blue‘ – a really desolate rural thriller as well as ‘The Girls‘ by Emma Cline which is beautifully written and hold you in a vice grip until the end.

Favourite song of the year?
I listen to so much music when I’m writing, a mixture of ambience and atmospheric black metal so in that sense, individual songs often don’t stick out.

I did get into Chelsea Wolfe a lot this year –  she’s a sort of doom-folk singer. ‘Simple Death‘ off her Abyss album is just wonderfully melancholic and bleak…are you noticing a theme in these answers yet?

Favourite film in 2016?
The Witch‘ was hands down my favourite film this year. It’s set in the 17th century with this banished family of Christians trying to tame the wilds of an unforgiving forest and hindered by their own puritanical fear of the unknown. I adored the way the dialogue was lifted from genuine witch trials and of course the character of Black Philip – a goat – stole the show. It was a difficult and tense watch, genuinely unsettling.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
I feel really strongly about animal rights, especially factory farming; it’s not common knowledge that ‘mega-dairies’ are operating in this country in 2016 – huge industrial complexes which allow the cows zero outdoor grazing. For such beautiful animals to be treated this way is just diabolical.

With so much scientific advancement from our species, it makes me sad that we still think it acceptable to treat other sentient creatures as products. For example, it baffles me when a company like McDonald’s brag about having free range eggs yet the chickens they farm for meat are still kept in inhumane and unspeakable conditions.  When someone gets on the bus with a bucket of KFC, the smell makes me want to vomit.

Under a Conservative government, for whom killing animals for fun is a pastime, it won’t be long until the pox that is fox hunting will return to our lands.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I don’t ever make resolutions at new year; I’m my own harshest critic all year round…that part of my brain nags me to be a better father and a more productive writer today!

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I really hope to see more reading in 2017…I’d love to see more people enjoying books rather than social media. There’s this wonderful tradition in Iceland called Jólabókaflóðið which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and people give each other books on Christmas eve and spend the evening reading. It’d be wonderful if we could spread that tradition worldwide.

Review of 2016: Shelley Day

My very good friend Shelley Day has had a rather special 2016 and she’s taken the time to share her memories with us. Thanks Shelley – here’s to many more wonderful years!

Vic x 

book-launch

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2016?
Well that’s easy peasy; my debut novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘ was published in July, launched on 7th at Waterstones in Edinburgh and then on 14th in Newcastle. I was dead nervous no-one would come, really worried. I’d made the mistake of googling stuff about book launches and came  across an alarming number (mostly in USA) when hardly anyone – in some cases, no-one! – had shown up. In the event, though, tons of people came, including mates from far away I hadn’t seen in donkey’s years, and loads of books were sold and signed and we went on after to the pub round the corner and the celebrations continued …so yeah, that’s my favourite 2016 professional memory! For someone who’s always had a hankering to write a novel, it was a dream come true!

stella-moon

And how about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
I’ve had so many good moments – ALL Stella-related this year. I haven’t done much other than Stella! So, many good things, it’s hard to pick … I was lucky enough to get a Spotlight slot at Bloody Scotland. In itself, bloody brilliant. But with Val McDermid? Yep. That Val McDermid. And didn’t I nearly fall off the stage when she interrupted to say she’d read my book, and was recommending it, ‘it’s full of dark suspense…’ … AND as if that wasn’t enough to set up a whole life-time of WOOPING … Didn’t Ali Smith – yes, that Ali Smith – didn’t she come up to me at her event in Topping’s, St Andrews in November and say, ‘I loved your book.’ Yep. That happened. I said ‘OMG, have you read it?’ and she said, ‘Absolutely. And I loved it.’  So who needs dreams when these things happen in real life? Eh?

bloody-scotland

Favourite book in 2016?
Favourite book this year has to be Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn.’ It’s very hard to pick ‘cause I’ve got mates who’ve done some really brilliant books this year – Graeme Macrae Burnet’s ‘His Bloody Project‘, for example, that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Martin MacInnes’s unusual and compelling ‘Infinite Ground‘, a remarkable debut. I’ve loved those. And Mary Paulson-Ellis’s ‘The Other Mrs Walker‘. To name but three. But I’ve plumped for Ali Smith. She read from the MS at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August – she had only that week submitted it to the publisher – and the whole place, hundreds of people: enthralled. I love all Ali Smith’s work and this one is as stunning as the rest. It’s also very poignant. Timely. Contempraneous she calls it.

I don’t know, autumn, the whole idea of it seems especially significant this year, maybe because I’m 63 now, well into my own Autumn; maybe because of Brexit and the disastrous election in America; maybe because we’ve lost so many good people in 2016 – Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen. Ali Smith talks about the seasons and the cycles of everything, and the new sap rising, and the old making way for the new … I love her optimism and the joyousness of her words and her celebrations of the inclusiveness and diversity of the Scottish traditions. But, I dunno, I feel fear at the moment, I feel us on the cusp of even more difficult times. I do hope the new that comes out of the present turmoils of the world will be something good … There are so many divisions, so many exclusions, so many gross inequalities, so many vested interests; so much healing to be done.

Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake.’ Has to be. As Ken Loach says, “if you’re not angry, what kind of person are you?” And Newcastle’s in my bones.

 Favourite song of the year?
I have an old favourite that I need to fish out from time to time and I’ve fished it out a lot this year because, although as you have seen I have had some very good moments this year, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Having a novel published is a strange thing, and I’ve had to do quite a bit to keep on top of it all, and to remind myself that it’s ok, and I’m ok … So, my song of the year is Ben Harper’s ‘Fight Outta You,’ given to me by my son years ago when I was going through a hard time. It’s a good song. It’s encouraging. Play it if you get discouraged about anything.

Any downsides for you in 2016?
Oh yes. There are always obstacles, aren’t there? As I said, getting my debut novel published is a dream, but it brings what are now commonly referred to as challenges – getting your book out there, trying to get it noticed, worrying in case it just sinks without trace … Oh yes. All that goes through a new author’s head. I don’t think I’m alone. Even authors with the mega-machines of big publishing houses behind them are secretly worrying what if ..
You feel so alone, blundering in the dark, not knowing what or why or when … That’s something every debut author goes through, it’s very difficult, and it’s fingers crossed you come through it and out the other end relatively unscathed. There’s a continual struggle against invisibility … and self-promotion is often so alien to a solitary writer’s nature, it can feel really terrible!
The irony, of course, is that while you’re worrying your socks off, your book’s out there getting lots of praise and great reviews and you’re getting invited to do gigs and be on panels … Then the major challenge is to marry all that up with the terrible alone-ness that you feel inside. If you’re a new author reading this, you’ll know what I mean. Don’t dwell on it. You’ll survive. You’ll live to tell the tale.

But yes, getting support from wherever and whoever you can is absolutely essential. One way to gather support is to get yourself out there. I’ve been lucky. I was already an experienced public speaker, so didn’t have the anxiety of that like some people do. And the likes of Waterstones, Edinburgh and Wordery (online) and Edinburgh City of Literature, and Scottish Book Trust, and New Writing North, they’ve been right behind me and having that kind of support makes a massive difference. And yes, slots at book festivals are very difficult to get, you apply and mostly you don’t even get an answer. But hey, some of them do reply, and some do offer you a slot, and a few of them welcome you with open arms and are really glad to have you. It’s hard not to be daunted – cowed even – by silences and rejections. But you learn to ride those waves and keep looking ahead.

You hesitate to talk about these difficult things in public, in case people think you ungrateful, and you’re s’posed to talk things up and talk yourself up … But, seriously, I’d be misrepresenting my experience as a debut author if I told you it was fab fab fab all the way.

Are you making resolutions for 2017?
I always make resolutions and I never keep them, any of them, they’ve always all bitten the dust by the 2nd January. But yeah, I’ll make them again, like I always do, I’ll have a shot at being virtuous. Then I’ll revert to my usual cranky self.

What are you hoping for from 2017?
I want to get on with my writing. I’ve given Stella the best I can for 6 months, and now I’m moving on. I’m writing a sequel, aiming to finish the first draft by the end of March, before I start on the Read Regional Events with New Writing North in April. I’m hugely looking forward to those because I love libraries and I love meeting readers! I’ve just done some for Book Week Scotland, and they’re great, people who love your book and who are so interested to find out more about it and about you. I’m looking forward to my favourite book festivals … Newcastle Noir in April, that’s always brilliant. And Bloody Scotland, and Wigtown and Berwick and Portobello. I had slots at all those this year and, well, just WOW – a whole new world opened out for me and I loved every minute. I’ve a collection of short sories coming out – A Policy of Constant Improvement – in 2017, so I’ll be doing some promotional work for that. And I’m hoping to land some funding for a travel residency in Norway for the long light summer …

Can I just take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s supported me and Stella in so many ways throughout the year; you are too many to name individually, but if you see this post, know that you made a real difference!

And thank you Victoria for inviting me onto your blog! I always love working with you!

Review of 2016: Chris Ord

Regular readers of this blog will recognise Chris Ord, author of the phenomenal novel ‘Becoming‘ which has stunned readers worldwide.

It was such a joy to attend Chris’s book launch last month and I’m really proud to have been involved in ‘Becoming‘. Thanks to Chris for sharing his 2016 with us! 

Vic x

Becoming

Do you have a favourite moment professionally from 2016?
On September 23rd I published my first novel ‘Becoming’. I’d always wanted to write a book, and after years of reviews and changes at work I was offered the option to take redundancy. I saw the opportunity to do what I’d always wanted and went for it. Some close family members had passed away and it made me realise you have to grab chances when they come.

It was daunting sitting down on day one, but I saw the opportunity to write as a privilege. I create my own worlds every day, and there was something exciting about sitting in front of a blank screen and facing endless opportunities. I hear many writers speak of the tyranny of the blank page, but I prefer to think of its possibilities.

The day of publication was magical. I was fizzing with the excitement of achievement, the realisation of a life’s ambition. There were mixed emotions though. There was the pride and satisfaction, but the apprehension too. Once the book was out I knew I was revealing my creation to others – friends, relatives, and strangers. I was exposing a bit of my soul. It was the time for judgement and thick skin. I tried to keep a sense of perspective. I loved writing ‘Becoming’ and if others love it too that is a bonus. I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, one that engages and entertains, but also challenges and provokes. If I achieve any combination of these I’ll be happy. I’m delighted to say the feedback and reviews have been excellent so far. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. Interest in the book is growing and after only two months it has a bit of momentum already.

The most rewarding thing has been how many people respect my courage in taking the risk and going for it. I hope that what I’ve done has inspired others to do the same. I’m a great believer in finding what you love and doing it. We see those memes on social media all the time about seizing the day and making your dreams happen. Maybe we see them too often now and they’ve lost their impact. The message is still true though. Just remind yourself and have the bravery and belief to go for it.

becoming

How about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
On a personal level I’ve had a dream year with many highlights. However, I’m a musician and music will always be my first love. Therefore, my favourite moments are the musical ones.

I play the horn in my home village band, Jayess Newbiggin. This year the band were crowned both Durham League and Regional Champions and represented the North East at the National Finals in Cheltenham in September. Those achievements were all something to be very proud of, however, my favourite moment was playing at Sage 1 in Gateshead in support of Mnozil Brass, the world’s leading brass ensemble. Working with the BAIT project at Woodhorn museum we performed a new commission called ‘Reflection Connections.’ It was written by world-renowned brass composer Lucy Pankhurst and involved all the South East Northumberland brass bands – Ashington, Bedlington, Ellington, and Jayess Newbiggin. Our first performance was alongside Mnozil Brass at the Northumberland Miner’s Picnic in June, and we followed this with a second performance at the Sage the next evening. It’s been a personal ambition to play Sage One and it was a joy to give life to Lucy’s magnificent music alongside my fellow band musicians in Northumberland. Life is about making memories, and this was one of the special ones.

sage-performance

Favourite book in 2016?
M Train’ by Patti Smith. I read a lot of biographies and music is my first love hence I tend to gravitate towards the memoirs of musicians. Patti Smith is one of rock’s great lyricists and poets, only surpassed by Dylan and Cohen in my view. Her lyrical and poetic style feeds into her gorgeous, seductive prose. She’s led a fascinating life and captivates with her anecdotes and observations. I love seeing how my heroes developed, what motivates them, their flaws. Unlike many memoirs Smith doesn’t sanitise her life, her truth, honesty, and punk spirit shine through. She opens her soul and draws you into her world. Her music is powerful, but words are her true gift. I’ve seen her perform a few times, and was fortunate to see her at Sage 2 a few years ago on the tour to promote the first memoir ‘Just Kids.’ It’s one of my favourite books, and she was mesmerising, mixing readings and discussion with old songs, giving one of the most charismatic and engaging performances I’ve seen. I recommend both her memoirs, but start with ‘Just Kids.’ As for her albums ‘Horses,’ it’s one of the greatest debut albums of all.

Favourite film in 2016?
I, Daniel Blake.’ If you haven’t seen this film, please do. It’s a deeply moving, and unsettling film which asks a simple question – is this the kind of society we want to live in? Art is a mirror that reflects life. Sometimes we don’t like what we see, and what we have become. Perhaps it’s easier to turn away and pretend we don’t see. I left the cinema feeling anger and shame. We can be better than this. We have to be.

I struggled to think of anything else for days. There was anger and shame, but also guilt. I didn’t create the brutality of the modern welfare system, but nor have I done enough to make myself aware of it, try to change it. Politics is too often putting the cross on the paper then either gloating or ranting on social media depending on the outcome. Politics should be about people. The people we elect, the people they serve, the people we live alongside in communities. People. Not just you and me, but all of us. Those seen and unseen. We’re all someone’s son or daughter.

The truth is I don’t do enough, but I will change. I want to. The most rewarding things I’ve done in my life have not been for financial gain. I’ve come to learn the simple act of giving is the most rewarding of all. It doesn’t have to be money, often it’s better to give time, or share a skill you may be lucky to have. I don’t know what I will do yet, but the new year beckons with new opportunities.

I, Daniel Blake’ is the best of films. It re-energised the anger of my youth. I know that I don’t want to be a part of the society I saw. Nor do I want to sit back and wait for politicians to make the change. They have a responsibility, but so do I.

What was your big adventure in 2016?
The family went to Iceland for two weeks in the Easter holidays. It’s a magical place, quirky and odd, but full of mystery and beauty. It reminds you of nature’s wonder and its danger. The people are dynamic, friendly and very creative.  It is a place to feel inspired. One in ten of the population have published a book. There is street art everywhere. Reykjavik is one of the most intimate capital cities I’ve been to. It feels alive and owned by the people. They engage in city life and the atmosphere is unique.

It’s a country being born in every sense. Parts are like the moon. It has glaciers and snow-capped volcanoes, and the earth breathing fire and steam. There are waterfalls with rainbows, and beaches of black sand. We swam in lagoons in meadows, sat by frozen crystal lakes, and drank from mountain streams. We watched the night sky dance with rivers of green. We experienced some unforgettable things, and learnt about an ancient seafaring culture that many of us in the North are descended from. It was something that is very important to share as a family, one of those unforgettable holidays. I will return someday, I’m sure of that.

iceland

Any downsides for you in 2016 generally?
The death of David Bowie. It’s hard to put into words how much Bowie means to me. Like so many I was devastated when he died. It was a shock, but it was also perfect Bowie, so beautifully orchestrated. Even in death he was a star. They named a constellation after him. How perfect. Billy Bragg has a theory that Bowie held the Universe together, and everything is collapsing since his death. The world has changed, the stars look different.

It was moving to see the tributes, how much he touched people’s lives. Whether you loved his music or not something you love was influenced and shaped by Bowie. I hear and see it in so much of popular music. He changed everything. He was a true creative visionary and though the term genius is often over-used, of the few that deserve the title Bowie is one.

How do you deal with that kind of loss, of someone you have never met, but has played such a huge part in your life? Someone who has made you laugh and cry, shaped who you are. I did meet David Bowie once. We were in an arena with a few thousand others, but he sang to me, only me, I’m sure of that. We all are. If life is a gift then so is death. It teaches us that life is precious, it shakes us from the mediocre and the mundane, it reminds us to live. It also helps us reflect on the life of the person we have lost, the special ones even more.

The truth is I never knew David Bowie the man, what touched me all those years was the music, the wonderful, magical music. It was the characters and personas, the many different faces. I cried a lot when he died, but I got through it. I found a new beginning, an absolute beginning. Now I celebrate everything I love about Bowie, all that he has given me. When most of us die we will crumble to star-dust, only the love will remain. People like Bowie leave so much more. They touch our soul, help us find who we are. That is why the artists, the poets, the musicians are the special ones. Everyone dies, but heroes live forever.

Are you making any resolutions for 2017?
I love this time of year not just for the festivities, but because I get to write lots of lists. I’m a big fan of making lists, I even write lists about what to make lists about. I also like reflecting, embracing change, and moving forward. My mantra is the Dylan line ‘He not busy being born is busy dying.’ New year is a perfect opportunity to do this and I try to make the most of it every year. So in terms of my resolutions for 2017, my current list is:

  1. Publish another novel
  2. Finish the follow-up to ‘Becoming.’
  3. Win the Brass Band Area Championship and qualify for the National Finals again
  4. Secure a top five finish in the Brass Band National Finals
  5. Go to at least 20 gigs
  6. Run more
  7. Worry less

The list will change, but that’s a good thing.

reflection-connection-picnic

What are you hoping for from 2017?
Less death, more life. More positivity and engagement. 2016 has been a year of anger and dismay, but we can get through all this if we try. The world seems to be shifting on the anger of vocal minorities. Meanwhile, there is a growing, silent majority, the passive, disillusioned, and the young. I hope to see more people engage and make the world they want to live in. Especially young people, the future is theirs.

Getting to Know You: Douglas Skelton

Guest Post: G.J. Brown on Crying Over Spilled Words.

I first met the lovely G.J. Brown in June this year when he took the time to appear at our first Noir at the Bar NE. Gordon is a fantastic writer and is one of the forces behind the massively popular Bloody Scotland.

I met Gordon again just a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle’s Lit and Phil while he was part of the Crime Factor panel. The discussion was truly fascinating and proved that Gordon is a font of knowledge when it comes to writing. 

Thanks to Gordon for taking the time to share his wisdom with us. 

Vic x

G.J. Brown

Never Cry Over Spilled Words
by G.J. Brown

The note from my editor, in returning the first draft of my next novel, read:

‘You’ll see I’ve taken a few sections out. Even so, there’s still a bit of flab.’

Three weeks later, after I’ve subjected my manuscript to a literary chainsaw, I send it back and my editor replies:

‘And this year’s winner of Author Who Culled The Largest Number Of Words From Their First Draft goes to…   40k less. Impressive.’

Hand on heart, I knew that my first draft was, at 117,000 + words, a tad too long. It’s the third in my Craig McIntyre series. The length was driven by an attempt to tie up some loose ends from books 1 and 2, while driving a trans America/Atlantic narrative. The novel ranges from mid-west America to Western Canada, it rolls through a road trip to Toronto, crosses the Atlantic to Scotland and then beyond – I was painting large on a large canvass.

Removing 40,000 words may seem a bit excessive, but I was once talking to the late, great William McIlvanney, over a dram, about editing. He was of the view that if you could remove a word from a sentence and the sentence was the better for it, then keep removing until the sentence sings. I just took Willie’s advice and put it on steroids.

I read and re-read the original. I thought about slicing and dicing, cutting and chopping. I played with tweaking and twisting and, after a few false starts, I realised that this was no minor outpatient operation. This was full on, brain surgery with a liver transplant thrown in for good measure, with a side order of a new heart.

The transit scene from the USA to Scotland was cut in its entirety – bang went 30,000 of those precious words. A chase by the local police, through Alberta, was given the shoulder – zap to 5,000 more. The rest was honing.

I’m waiting on the ‘Weight Watchers Winner for Best Book on a Diet’ coming back to me with the editor’s final comments. I’ve already decided I’m drawing a line in the sand and fighting for every one of the remaining 80,000 words. They deserve no less given the way they’ve survived to date.

Throughout the whole process there was one driver – does this make the book better?

Well, did it?

The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer, in my editors and my own humble opinion is, ‘hell yes’. Sharper, better written, flab gone – it’s now the Mo Farrah to the Big Daddy of the book world.

And the bonus is I’ve got at least three short stories sitting in the bowels of my Mac. A little work on the culled paragraphs and I can fill my website with a range of Craig McIntyre tales for a few months to come.

So for those authors that cry over spilled words. Don’t. They didn’t all give their lives in vain. Some will live on to grace different pages in the future and, for those that died, well, they did so for a better cause.

***

meltdown

Gordon lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has had four books published – his latest, ‘Meltdown‘, is published by Gallus Press and is out now.

Visit www.gordonjbrown.com or follow him on Twitter @GoJaBrown

Guest Post: Jennifer C. Wilson on Reluctantly Writing a Ghost Story.

Jennifer C. Wilson is a regular guest on this blog as well as a regular attendee of Elementary Writers.

Although she’s the author of ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘ (which is celebrating its first birthday), Jen’s here to tell us about how a self-confessed scaredy-cat manages to write ghost stories. 

I’m a little worried about how Jen will react when she performs at ‘The Visitation‘ this Saturday night although I actually think she’s tremendously brave for facing her fears. 

To see Jen and other members of Elementary Writers perform original ghost stories and poetry, order your tickets for ‘The Visitation‘ now!

Vic x

Jennifer C. Wilson: The Reluctant Ghost Story Writer

I’m a coward. Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I really am an absolute scaredy-cat. I don’t watch horror films, I don’t particularly like visiting ruined or quiet places in the dark (or even on my own, to be honest), and I don’t read ghost stories. Slightly ironic, then, that the biggest success I’ve ever had as a writer (i.e. the publication of my debut novel), is by having written what? Yup, a ghost story. Although in my defence, I have always categorised ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London as ‘a story about ghosts’ rather than ‘a ghost story’. To me, that’s a big difference.

Wandering around the Tower (especially during a freezing February blizzard), my mind was buzzing with the characters who have lived there down the years, either willingly (or decidedly unwillingly), and what stories they would tell. I tried so hard to set a piece of ‘true’ historical fiction there, drawing on the adventures of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and, of course, Richard III, but nothing seemed to work, no stories were crying out to be told. But that was when I was trying to channel the living – the dead, on the other hand, refused to shut up. The notion that Richard and Anne might have plenty in common to chat about really appealed, having been sparked as an idea for a poetry competition. But ghosts? For me? Lonely and creepy dungeons, rooms where people (including possibly children) were tortured and murdered – surely the ghosts of the Tower would be your classic, chain-rattling, terrifying-the-visitors type? I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

Then it struck me. If they were still hanging around, then this little community would have been stuck together, in some cases, for centuries. During that time, surely there would be politics, based either on their thoughts whilst alive, or those which developed in death? There would be arguments over virtually everything, and there would be friendships. And what comes with friendships? Humour. If I could find even the tiniest hint of the petty bickering and raucous laughter which comes with almost any tight-knit group of friends, then maybe this was my way in. Plus, it meant I could work on it after dark, without scaring myself witless!

This is not how I would categorise ‘Followed’, the piece I’m performing as part of ‘The Visitation‘ this Halloween. I was genuinely uncomfortable writing it, and decided part-way through the first draft that it would be a daytime project only. Sad, I know, but I’m already a bad sleeper – there’s no way I was working on that in the dark…

But, I believe in pushing myself, and trying new things, so I’ve made it to the end, and after a couple of rewrites, hopefully it will go down ok, if a little lighter than some of the pieces you’ll hear on the night. After all, if the coward can find success with a ghost story, surely a werewolf is a piece of cake?

About ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London

A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers…
In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews.

Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury.

With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave?

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.
Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London‘ was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.

You can find Jennifer on Facebook and Twitter.